28 April 2008

Super-elite airline crashes and burns

It's all happening today. Perhaps there are some limits to the excesses of the super-elite luxury market?

I've just learned (thanks to Adam) that eos - the all-business-class airline - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy yesterday (source Times Online). What an ignominious demise for an airline that touted itself "uncrowned" and "uncompromising". "Unairline" was, it seems, something of a portentious labelling for this now non-airline. Here below is the open letter they posted on their website (or click on the link above). I can't help but wonder what poor old Adam Komack, the airline's Chief Lifestyle Officer, is going to be doing now - how will he ever find another job in this day and age?

Oh, and speaking of the possible limits of the limitless, while reading about eos on the TimesOnline website, I discovered that the luxury doesn't really cease after all: eos goes down, but The Times flies. Here's their new ezine called, wait for it, LUXX. Clever, huh? This is the kind of "article" they produce:

Now that's more like it. I guess Adam Komack's sent his CV in already.

Luxury discourse, luxury drivel

It's a truffle. This small, turd-like lump of chocolate apparently finds itself at the epicentre of the luxury lifestyle. Here's a case in point.

My graduate colleague Kris Mroczek pointed this one out to me - she knows I'm always looking for choice examples of the insanities of luxury discourse. It comes from Katrina Markoff, the "founder" of Vosges Haut-Chocolat - how much hard-to-pronounce French can you pack into one name?

"Some people just see a fancy, expensive chocolate, but once you read the story behind it, it has a strong, renegade, save-the-world voice. ... I always made sure the craftsmanship of my product was super high-end: I used regal colors, created luxurious textures, gathered unique flavors from all over the world, gave it a chic feminine vibe, and mixed it all in with my cause."
Come on! It's chocolate, for god's sake!

It's a description which takes up the luxury discourse in a big way - a language of utterly semioticized, aestheticized nonsense. What/when is "super high-end"? Or, for that matter, "regal"? "luxurious textures"? "unique flavors"? "chic feminine vibe"? It's drivel - both the slavering kind and the twaddle kind.

No, but seriously. Who knew saving the world (from what? itself? chocolatiers?) would be as easy as consuming the Green Truffle Collection which, we are informed, is:
A collection inspired by the spices, teas, fruits and flowers indigenous to Asia, including cardamom, pandan leaf, macha green tea, and Japanese cherry blossoms. Available in the Spring while supplies last.
The natural (sic) consequence of arch-consumer lifestyle marketing? I know it's lavatorial of me, but we also know where that "exotic truffle" ends up. And, it has to be said, looking remarkably like it did at the start. Or maybe that wasn't the start after all? Hmmm... maybe I'll pass when that antique, filigree truffle salver comes round again.

Source: Ladies Who Launch - Entrepreneurship and Creativity as a Lifestyle (whatever that means).

27 April 2008


This card is one of a series of "demotivators" produced by Despair Inc. I bought a set of these particular cards ages ago because I liked the elitism play, but I also love Despair Inc.'s overall parody of trite corporate culture - here's how they put it themselves:

Psychology tells us that motivation- true, lasting motivation- can only come from within. Common sense tells us it can't be manufactured or productized. So how is it that a multi-billion dollar industry thrives through the sale of motivational commodities and services? Because, in our world of instant gratification, people desperately want to believe that there are simple solutions to complex problems. And when desperation has disposable income, market opportunities abound.

AT DESPAIR, INC., we believe motivational products create unrealistic expectations, raising hopes only to dash them. That's why we created our soul-crushingly depressing Demotivators® designs, so you can skip the delusions that motivational products induce and head straight for the disappointments that follow!

That there is something decidedly circumlocutious (to put it nicely) about Despair Inc "productizing" their critique says a lot about the nature of post-industrial capital. We really are monkeys chasing our own tails.

05 April 2008

Poverty for profit

This advertising image, pulled from an in-flight magazine or some other tourist literature in July last year, has left me flawed. I may be naive - in fact, I know I am - but what kind of world are we living in where it's somehow appropriate, somehow desirable to produce such a text? Here's a clean, serene, ordered scene of a solitary, boiler-suited, South Asian (I can't be sure) worker hand-painting the median line of a freeway in the middle of an arid, sun-burnt desert. How does this come to be - to be used as - a marker of good taste, of progress? I suppose it's the inevitable consequence of arch capitalism's intensely flexible, highly semioticized economies. In the process, what gets concealed are the squalid conditions of labour - its material, financial, social and emotional realities; its political, economic and ideological circumstances. Only the "nice bits", the "savoury bits" are selected in a representation of global inequality that is so highly stylized, so perfectly sanitized as to appear aesthetically pleasing and morally defensible. Here's we have a "material" labourer putting the finishing touches to a road (a road to nowhere?) in the service of "immaterial labour" (Hardt & Negri, 2000) targetted by the advertizers as: project finance, insurance, reinsurance, corporate and private banking, assest management and Islamic finance. We have hard labour semioticized and commodified for the soft economies of information and finance. As such, the advert is what Adam Jaworski and I would regard as another quintessentially "banal enactment of globalization" (Thurlow & Jaworski, 2009). In this instance, and to borrow a phrase from the anthropologist Ed Bruner, we have a perfect manifestation of "poverty for profit".

02 April 2008

In a nutshell

"Today nearly all of humanity is to some degree absorbed within or subordinated to the networks of capitalist exploitation. We now see an ever more extreme separation of a small minority that controls enormous wealth from the multitudes that live in poverty at the limits of powerlessness."
Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (p. 43)